Article A Primer on the Element of Causation in Utah Homicide Cases, 0618 UTBJ, Vol. 31, No. 3. 12

Position:Vol. 31 3 Pg. 12

Article A Primer on the Element of Causation in Utah Homicide Cases

Vol. 31 No. 3 Pg. 12

Utah Bar Journal

June, 2018

May, 2018


Every homicide offense in Utah requires proof that the defendant caused the death of another. In most cases, this element of the offense is given no real thought because it is obvious to everyone involved that the alleged actions caused the death of the victim, such as cases involving gunshot wounds or stabbing. But there are homicide cases in which the element of causation is not quite so intuitive. When handling these cases, prosecutors and defense attorneys should look at examples from case law.


In Utah, the State does not have to prove that the defendant was the sole cause of the victim’s death to convict him or her of a homicide offense. The following are the primary cases that address this principle of law.

State v. Hamblin, 676 P.2d 376 (Utah 1983)

The defendant was driving his vehicle on a wet road at a speed that was approximately forty to fifty miles per hour faster than what was safe for the existing conditions. As the defendant approached an intersection, he observed that the light was yellow. He accelerated through the intersection as the light turned red, which happened to be the same time that the victim was turning left in front of him. The victim was thrown through the windshield and died. The defendant had a blood-alcohol level of .12, and the victim had a level of .10. Testimony indicated that the defendant would have been able to avoid the collision if he had been driving the legal speed limit. The defendant was charged and convicted of automobile homicide.

The defendant argued that he could not be convicted because the other driver was also negligent and, thus, the defendant was not the “sole proximate cause” of the death. Hamblin, 676 P.2d at 379. The Utah Supreme Court found that “assertion to be incredible” and rejected the argument. Id. The court gave the following example about the principle of causation in homicide cases: It is obvious that death may result from more than one cause. For example, a felon may shield himself from a pursuing officer with the body of an innocent bystander. If the officer, in an attempt to prevent the felon’s escape, should shoot at the felon, but hit and kill the...

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